A Thesis Subsidiary of David Bellona
In late 2011, there were 509,147 data centers worldwide, covering an area equivalent of 5,955 football fields.1Our Facebook profiles, YouTube videos, and Gmail accounts are reliant on a computing phenomenon called “the cloud”. Made up of millions of servers, the cloud's infrastructure is a multi-billion dollar industry,2 quickly growing to keep pace with our demand. In fact, Former CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, estimates every two days we generate as much information as we did
from the dawn of civilization up until 2003.3
These millions of servers are housed in data centers: physical embodiments of the cloud. Some cost as much as $1 billion to build, reach upwards of 300,000 square feet, and consume enough energy to power 80,000 average U.S. homes.4 To power these facilities, the majority of IT companies rely on coal for between 50% – 80% of their energy needs. Consuming nearly 2% of all global electricity and growing at a rate of 12% a year,5 total CO2 emissions from the IT industry are equal to that of the airline industry.6
Greater demand due to efficiency is not a new issue. Jevons paradox describes the increase in
coal consumption due to efficient steam engines. Today, known as the rebound effect, it explains as technology allows for faster and easier access to a resource, that resource becomes cheaper and used more quickly. For instance, an email has about one-sixtieth the carbon footprint of a letter.7 Over the past year, how many emails do we send versus letters?
Remember: behind every click, there's a little lump of coal.The Coal Button is a new type of interaction that allows us to simply pollute with every click. It does not like, tweet, share, reblog, or pin; it simply emits CO2. Endorsed by W3Schools as well as ShareThis and AddThis, the Coal Button
has been featured on numerous sites, including: The New York Times, Fox News, Slate, A List Apart, and Treehugger.8 Comparable to emission estimates for a Google search, every click consumes 0.0003 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy, or 1 kilojoule, releasing 0.2 grams of CO2 into the atmosphere.9
The annual C02 emissions of U.S. data centers is 170 million tons, more than Argentina produced in 2010.10The IT industry has finally agreed upon a set of standards for measuring its CO2 emissions.11 The CO2 Counter uses these standards to track all CO2 emissions of “one-click” interactions on
the Internet - buttons that like, tweet, share, reblog, pin, and yes, exclusively produce CO2.
Research has shown that even the tiniest interactions on the web subsequently produce pollution; even a Google search produces 0.2 grams. With an estimated 200 to 500 million search queries per day, 1.3 millions tons of CO2 emissions are generated each year, just from
Google searches.12 Even smaller are emissions from a tweet which has been estimated to be 0.02 grams of CO2.13 While this minuscule emission weighs 0.02 grams, by volume, it takes up roughly 10ml of space. 50 tweets and enough CO2 has been released to fill the lungs of an average human breath. Not to fear, the CO2 Counter can track even the smallest button clicks, including tweets.
Want to install a button that does nothing but emit CO2?
Download the action pack.
In 2010, Greenpeace mounted a campaign against Facebook, protesting the company's decision to power its data centers with non-renewable energy sources. Facebook's recent efforts are summarized in their new site, Facebook Sustainability.
Google is an industry leader for energy efficiency and renewable energy sourcing. While they do get lower grades for lack of transparency, Google does a great job explaining how they mitigate their impact on the environment with Google Green.
Spread the word and pollute at the same time.
1Miller, Rich. “How Many Data Centers? Emerson Says 500,000.” Data Center Knowledge, December 14, 2011, accessed March 15, 2012.
2IDC. “Worldwide Server Market Revenues Increase 17.9% in Second Quarter as Market Demand Remains Strong.” International Data Corporation press release, August 23, 2011, accessed December 2, 2011.
3Siegler, MG. “Eric Schmidt: Every 2 Days We Create As Much Information As We Did Up To 2003.” Tech Crunch, August 4, 2010, accessed March 22, 2012.
4Cook, Gary. “Apple's growing iCloud: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Greenpeace, accessed March 28, 2012.
5Cook, Gary and Van Horn, Jodie. “How Dirty Is Your Data?” Greenpeace International, April 2011.
6Ilic, Dan. Video: “How Green Is Your Internet?.” Produced by Patrick Clair. 2011, accessed February 7, 2012.
7Berners-Lee, Mike. How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything. Vancouver: Greystone, 2011, p.21.
8Not really, but every button on these sites are coal buttons.
9Hölzle, Urs. “Powering a Google Search.” Google Blog, January 11, 2009, accessed December 3, 2011.
10Lucente, Edward J. “The Coming 'C' Change in Datacenters.” HPC Wire, June 15, 2010, accessed March 28, 2012.
11Not really, but they should.
13Heimbuch, Jaymi. “Twittering Adds How Much to Your Carbon Footprint?.” Treehugger, April 19, 2010, accessed February 20, 2012.